A Plumbline in the Wind

The world is going to the dogs, but I refuse to learn to bark

A Plumbline in the Wind Paris: Jardin des Tuileries

The fallacy of race

31 May 2008 · No Comments

This afternoon I heard a commentator on NPR say something like this: “Barack Obama will probably be the Democratic nominee for president. Then Americans will all have to face how they really feel about race.” The speaker assumed, apparently, that the only reason anyone would oppose Sen. Obama is because he is “a black man” (whatever that means). Opposition for this reason is racism; therefore anyone who opposes Sen. Obama is a racist. To put it in the form of a syllogism, if Jones is a person opposed to electing Barack Obama as president:

Barack Obama is a black man.
Jones does not want Barack Obama to be president.
Therefore Jones does not want a black man to be president.

Because anyone who would exclude a person from holding public office because of his race is a racist, Jones is a racist. There is a serious logical flaw here, which, if you don’t see what it is, I’ll gladly explain. (It depends, as Bill Clinton would say, on what “is” means.) I assume, however, that my readers are intelligent enough to see the fallacy. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: Politics and society

Followup to the last post

22 May 2008 · 1 Comment

“Without Christ, we would be little more than bacteria breeding on a pebble in space or glints of ideas in a whirling void of abstractions. Because of him, I can stand out here under this cold immensity and know that my infinitesimal pulse-beats and acts and thoughts are of more importance than this whole show of a universe. Only for him, I would be crushed beneath the weight of all these worlds. Only for him, I would be confounded before the awful fertility and intricacy of all life. Only for him, I would be the merest of animalcules crawling on the merest of motes in a frigid infinity.” He turned away from me, turned toward the spread of night behind the parapet. “But behold,” he said, “behold! God wept and laughed and dined and wined and suffered and died even as you and I. Blah for the immensity of space! Blah for those who would have me a microcosm in the meaningless tangle of an endless evolution! I’m no microcosm. I, too, am a Son of God!”

–Myles Connolly, Mr. Blue (1928, repr. Loyola Classics, 2004)

→ 1 CommentTags: Literature · Spirituality

Reverence to nothings

16 May 2008 · No Comments

In Out of the Silent Planet, the Oyarsa of Malacandra tells Ransom,

My people have a law never to speak much of sizes or numbers to you others, not even to sorns. You do not understand, and it makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what it really great.

There is another danger to hearing about sizes and numbers, about long reaches of time and space: that we think we understand the magnitudes of things because we can manipulate the numbers. I can remember things that happened fifty years ago; I have personally spoken to people who remembered things that happened a hundred years ago; but although I can speak of things that happened a thousand years ago, there is nothing in my experience that actually encompasses a thousand years. Much less, when I speak of millions of years, of geologic ages, am I speaking of anything that I actually can know. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: Spirituality

More political rant

8 May 2008 · 4 Comments

[The reason I keep complaining about nobody reading this blog is that lately the only comments I have received are spam. Most of them are on older posts, and I have closed them to comments. This has cut down the spamming rate, but hasn’t stopped it. But no one responds to the outrageous things I write, so they must not be reading them. Maybe it’s for the best.]

The longer the political campaign goes on this year, the more depressing it gets. On the one hand, there are the Democrats. To believe the media–and who doesn’t?–they are certain to win, indeed to gain such a majority as to gain absolute power. If they control two-thirds of the House and Senate, and have a president who (as is the case with both of their candidates) will appoint judges who believe in legislating from the bench, no protection of life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness will remain. The Constitution will be a meaningless scrap of paper, or rather, an empty sack to be filled with whatever meaning the elite of the moment chooses to pour into it. Judging by what they are doing in Europe and Canada, it won’t be long before any Catholics (or other Christians) who refuse to abandon historic Christian teaching on morality will be driven underground.

On the other hand, there are the Republicans, who seem intent on self-destruction. [Read more →]

→ 4 CommentsTags: Politics and society

Benedict XVI and John Paul II

7 April 2008 · 1 Comment

The most effective argument I have ever heard against the Catholic Church (and I should say immediately, I was not convinced by it) came as an aside in a book review in an Eastern Orthodox journal. The book under review dealt in some way with the rear guard of tradition in the Anglican church, futilely resisting such innovations as the ordination of women. He noted that these traditional Anglicans offered as one of their arguments the contention that introducing these innovations would be an obstacle to unity with the Orthodox. Why the Orthodox and not the Romans? the reviewer asked. Because (he said) the Anglicans knew that the Orthodox were solidly committed to Sacred Tradition, while the Romans, by virtue of the dogma of papal infallibility, had subordinated Sacred Tradition to the authority of the pope, who could decide to abandon any part of it at any time.

Of course, if, as a wise man once said to me, you believe what Catholics believe about the Church, you know it doesn’t work that way. [Read more →]

→ 1 CommentTags: Theology and scripture

New York in the 1850s

1 April 2008 · No Comments

Gustavus Meyers cites such choice morsels of graft as . . . the payment of tribute by more than a hundred men who regularly patronized the establishment operated in Greenwich street by Madame Restall, also known as Madame Killer, the notorious abortionist who committed suicide in her bathtub when Anthony Comstock raided her place. Madame Restall’s house and occupation became so well known that during the last years of her life, whenever she ventured abroad in her carriage, street boys followed her and shouted, “Yah! Your house is built on babies’ skulls!”

Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York (1928; repr. 1998), p. 84

→ No CommentsTags: Politics and society

You could be next

22 March 2008 · 1 Comment

Less than a year after I started working for my present employer, in fact while I was still employed through a temp agency, I was summoned into the office of one of the vice presidents. There he and the comptroller informed me that a complaint of sexual harrassment had been brought against me. They would not tell me who had complained, or what I was accused of doing, but if I ever did it again, I would be fired. I could not think of anything I had done that could have brought this on. I had never intended to do anything to anyone, I told them. It didn’t matter what I had intended to do, they told me, or whether it was deliberate or not, what mattered was how I made someone feel. I was, to put it mildly, terrified. [Read more →]

→ 1 CommentTags: My Life · Politics and society

How I met a Holocaust survivor

18 March 2008 · 1 Comment

I was recently reminded of one of the most unusual experiences of my life.

It was August Bank Holiday week in 1979. It was, as I discovered when I got there, the wrong time to visit Edinburgh, because it was during the Edinburgh Festival. But I was there on my vacation following a summer of research in the archives in Liège, Belgium, so I tried to make the best of it. Because I could present a student identification I was able to stay in a room in the dormitories of the University of Edinburgh for £3 a night; but there were also few restaurants where one could find a seat without waiting for supper until midnight. So as the long summer evening began to fall, I was walking along Princes Street looking for a bite to eat. On the opposite side of the street, in a little plaza overlooking the garden, there was an evangelist of some kind standing on a platform addressing a small crowd. Should I go and help him? I asked–myself, or maybe God. No, I’m on vacation; that was a decision I made after some prayer; when the general tells the soldier to go on leave, he should do that. I turned up one of the side streets and eventually settled for the indigestible hamburgers they used to serve (and for all I know still serve) at Wimpy’s. When I got back to the corner, I saw that the evangelist had come off the platform, and little knots of people from the crowd were engaged in discussions with him and his associates. My curiosity got the better of me. I crossed the street and stood at a respectable distance from the evangelist, in earnest conversation with an older gentleman. He was explaining some point of Christian belief, to which his interlocutor objected. “This man may agree with you,” he said, pointing at me, “but I don’t.” Both men looked at me as if expecting a reply. “Well, as a matter of fact I do,” I said. “Good,” said the evangelist. “You talk to him.” And he walked away. [Read more →]

→ 1 CommentTags: Apologetics · My Life · Theology and scripture

The new bishop

27 February 2008 · 1 Comment

For two and a half years, we have been praying for the eventual successor to Bishop Mengeling in the diocese of Lansing (some of us under our breaths hoping to forestall as long as possible the retirement for which he longs), and now we know who he is. Bishop Earl Boyea, heretofore auxiliary in Detroit, is the new bishop. I didn’t know anything about him this morning, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I know a little now. He has two things (at least) in common with me: he was born in 1951, and he is a historian. He has written for First Things, defending the priesthood, and has celebrated Mass at the Tridentine parish in Detroit. All this looks good. I found a podcast of the homily he gave at the installation of Fr. John Riccardo at Our Lady of Good Counsel last fall. He did not mince his words on the subject of abortion and those who support it and those who think they should do nothing about it. I hope our Governor hears it and quakes in her shoes. My daily prayer for the new bishop has been that he will be a man after God’s own heart who will build up all that is good and correct all that is lacking. I now may have some hope that this may be so.

My greatest concern is selfish: that the new bishop will be favorable to Christ the King parish, as Bishop Mengeling has been, and will allow us to continue as a nonterritorial charismatic parish. I am sure that Bishop Boyea is aware of the parish, since he has taught at Sacred Heart Seminary along with a number of members of the parish who are also on the faculty (at least three full-time and four part-time, by my count, not counting a couple of priests who were formerly parishioners). Even if he weren’t, I can’t see a bishop wanting to disturb a parish that has more men in seminary than many dioceses, not to mention the priests we have already produced (including the oldest priest ordained in 2007), as well as four deacons and four more in training. And even if he did not care for that, we have a poison pill: more than $3 million in debt for a parish of 825 families. And we always exceed our DSA goal.

→ 1 CommentTags: My Life · Spirituality

Reading Lincoln

24 February 2008 · 2 Comments

Lately I have been reading a collection called The Words of Abraham Lincoln . Lincoln is one of those figures who, the more I learn about him, the more I admire him. As I read his speeches on slavery, in particular the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Cooper Union speech, I am struck again by the parallels between the debate over slavery and the current debate over abortion. Douglas was the epitome of the “personally opposed”–personally opposed to slavery, but believed in a slave-owner’s right to choose, and unwilling to call slavery an evil. The issue had been put on a new footing by the Dred Scott decision, a Supreme Court decision as badly decided, and as unjustifiably far-reaching, as Roe v. Wade and its companions. In the fifth debate at Galesburg, and again in the Cooper Union speech, Lincoln demonstrates that the logic of the court in Dred Scott meant that slavery could be, by a decision of the Court, legalized not only in the territories, but in the states as well. In the same way, the Court overrode the will of the people of many states (such as my own state of Michigan) who had recently voted to maintain the prohibition of abortion.
[Read more →]

→ 2 CommentsTags: Politics and society